Open Letter to Harvard Kennedy School Administration: Racial Equity Now

{Building on the petition from Spring 2019, this is a new Open Letter Launched 12/5/2019}

The Harvard Kennedy School has reached a crisis point when it comes to racial inequity and injustice. Current Masters in Public Policy students raised this alarm in a recent article in The Citizen entitled “Institutional Racism Lives at HKS, Compromising Its Effectiveness as a Public Service Institution.” Their concerns echo years of student demands that have yet to spur institutional change, including the recent petition delivered at the end of Spring 2019, “HKS Students for a Racial Equity Curriculum.” HKS must commit to creating a culture and environment of anti-racism.

As such, students, alumni, faculty, and staff are calling on the Harvard Kennedy School to:

1. Implement a mandatory course on the history of race and inequality for Fall 2020.

Harvard Kennedy School students will go on to shape public policy domestically and internationally, yet currently have no mandatory education on the history of racism and colonialism and how it has manifested in ongoing inequity and injustice in our political and social structures. “Race, Inequality, and American Democracy” is an existing HKS class and a strong starting point, but is currently an elective, opted into by a select few. The history of policy interventions, wars, migration, and global development cannot be disentangled from a history of violent oppression and the exclusion of groups from the benefits of policy and progress based on race, ethnicity, and class. Students cannot leave HKS without knowing “history, how race was constructed, the discriminatory policies that have been put in place to preserve it, and how it functions institutionally today.” Without a full understanding of who has been excluded from political participation and access to resources by decision makers and global leaders, our graduates are set up to deepen inequality and racial injustice.

2. Implement a mandatory racial equity training for students, faculty, and staff across all programs (MPP, MPA, MPA-ID, MC/MPA) starting in Spring 2020 and continuing during Orientation 2020.

All faculty, staff, and students at a public policy institution need to understand structural racism and their role and responsibility in pursuing racial equity. Racial inequity touches every aspect of this institution, from the abysmal lack of faculty and students of color to the poorly facilitated case studies of policies that have devastating consequences for communities of color to the racist tropes in classroom discussion. Students have repeatedly called out these incidents with no collective response from the HKS administration. In addition, racism and white supremacy operate globally and intersect with all students’ lives in myriad ways. International students coming to the US as well as domestic students, need foundation-setting on how to talk about race and racism through a framework of equity. The Harvard Kennedy School needs to demonstrate its commitment to tackling these challenges by implementing a mandatory racial equity training starting in Spring 2020, providing an outside facilitator, and making it a permanent installment of all future student and faculty orientations. This is a critical first step to address the fact that students from marginalized racial and ethnic backgrounds have consistently taken on the HKS administration’s responsibility to educate faculty, staff, and students about racism and discrimination.

3. Cluster hire a cohort of three-to-four faculty of color who critically study the
intersectionality of race, gender, class, and power.

One or two faculty members cannot change the culture of HKS; we need a critical mass. Today, HKS has only one tenured Black faculty member and one Latinx tenured faculty member (out of 42). The institution creates and sustains an environment of tokenization, one in which these professors of color serve simply as symbolic faces for Harvard’s efforts in “diversity, inclusion and belonging.” Once hired, these efforts are proven hollow as faculty members are given minimal support or resources to advocate for equitable and just change. Even in successful cases of recruiting faculty and staff in this area, HKS fails to retain them. In some cases, there is even a mass exodus. In 2017, three Black women administrators at HKS stepped down over the span of about six months. During her departure, Alexandra Martinez (the then Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion) publicly declared a "‘lack of support’ from school leaders around addressing issues of diversity and racism.”

By signing, I signal to the administration that I fully support these actions and strongly recommend the Harvard Kennedy School administration to respond and act accordingly.

Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Students of the Harvard Kennedy School
Student Organizations, PICs and Caucuses

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